Working class – who is working class these days? The numbers of Americans defining themselves as middle class are in decline: 48% now consider themselves lower or working class. There are similar shifting sentiments in the UK.
And where do the old values of social liberalism (for a definition of social liberalism see * below) and social justice fit within this changing spectrum?
In both the USA and UK a new identity (nation, race, interest group) politics is taking hold. At the expense of both a more liberal outlook, and ‘the more conservative Labourism that might still stand the best chance in small-town England’. (David Marquand)
Taking Labour first, what the old Left hasn’t accepted is that the working-class solidarity of old, which has inspired the Labour movement for 150 years, is gone forever. And that could include Marquand’s ‘more conservative Labourism’. Left-intellectual radicalism and working-class aspirations no longer gell as once they did. Grinding poverty is no more, the old Marxist underpinning likewise, and there’s an alienation, a boredom and increasingly an hostility toward the political process.
And intellectuals, never too popular in the UK, are out of fashion as never before.
The popular instinct, as the Brexit result revealed, is to hold on to what we have. Immigration, globalisation, new technologies, the old politics, all are suspect. There’s support for renationalising the railways, but not for wider state intervention.
Maybe the Corbynite left will convince us otherwise, but I think they’re simply out of tune with the popular will.
So too social liberals – they’re also out of tune with broad sections of the population, who only see government indifference to unwanted changes in their lives – housing shortages, pressures on services, regional development, immigration.
It’s addressing these issues, rather than an overtly radical political prospectus, that will win people back to a liberal agenda.
Likewise, this should be Labour’s policy focus. Radical at heart, but pragmatic in practice. Unless you’re happy in the wilderness.
*Wikipedia has a helpful definition of social liberalism: Social liberalism is a political ideology that seeks to find a balance between individual liberty and social justice. Like classical liberalism, social liberalism endorses a market economy and the expansion of civil and political rights and liberties, but differs in that it believes the legitimate role of the government includes addressing economic and social issues such as poverty, health care, and education. Under social liberalism, the good of the community is viewed as harmonious with the freedom of the individual. Social liberal policies have been widely adopted in much of the capitalist world, particularly following World War II. Social liberal ideas and parties tend to be considered centrist or centre-left.